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Oceanography: Exploring Earth's Final Wilderness

Probe the ocean depths in this intriguing course that explores what we know about the world's oceans from the tidal zones to the deepest points on the ocean floor.
Oceanography: Exploring Earth's Final Wilderness is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 95.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from My husband and I love this course We are learning so much from this course that we did not know before, about the relationship between the sea and the land, the sea and the air! We haven't even gotten to the parts about plants and animals yet. Prof. Tobin is an excellent presenter, calm, matter of fact, personable, and very clear, even on the tricky bits.
Date published: 2023-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent overview of oceanography. My daughter is a physical oceanographer who was educated in US and now a senior scientist in Australia. I want to understand how she became so interested in oceanography as I had no education in such subject. This course has given me the tremendous insight as to what she does and why she was interested in this subject matter. She graduated in 2010, and now after 13 years, her study has tremendous impact on the current situation. Thank you for enlighten me with the subject matter. I understand why our weather system is getting more extreme. Professor Tobin explained in well in 2011.
Date published: 2023-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating! and entertaining I have been working my way through these lectures. There are many! I have found with each lecture I have learned new things, even though I have lived by the ocean most of my life. From the tiniest microorganism to the patterns of the largest physical characteristics topics are covered with expertise mixed with humor and humanity. To take on such a vast topic with scientific facts and personal observation is quite an undertaking. I occasionally review past lectures to make sure I understand and retain what was discussed.I intend on exploring these topics when I am on the water. I would look for more lectures from this professor.
Date published: 2023-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation Professor Tobin presents a well balanced, progressive lecture format that introduces new material and terminology at a pace easily understood. The content is taught so that important concepts are fully explained, even to a novice in this area. Graphics are used effectively. Most importantly Dr. Tobin does not judge but provides factual information known at this time. Exceptional 36 lectures.
Date published: 2023-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from incredible - fantastic - worthwhile this course is one of the best courses I've watched with "great courses" - several of the other 5 star reviews offer comprehensive details as to why it's such a wonderful course, so I won't repeat (did you know the ocean is almost 7 miles deep in places?) - the teacher is superb - a stellar performance in delivery and content - some of the lectures are intense/difficult and I suggest either watching twice, reviewing the excellent outline for the lecture or both - as goes the ocean, so goes the planet and so goes humanity - take the course - you'll be a better "citizen of the world" and have a deeper appreciation for the amazing and fragile global real estate we live on
Date published: 2023-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Massive Effort Professor Tobin has a wide background including astronaut training, oceanography, and geology. This 2011 course and its massive 309-page guidebook reflect those interests and more. He assumes little background knowledge, starts slowly with interspersed factoids. It’s good if you forgot a basic, but long to "get through" if you didn't. Lecture 2 (=L2) factoids: 3rd century BC Eratosthenes oceanographic chart of the Mediterranean with latitude/longitude lines showed he was aware of earth's spherical shape. Polynesian stick charts showing wave refraction around islands with curved sticks and their ability to “see" an island over the horizon by cloud formation. Multiple chapters are then spent on oceanic terms and the mechanics of its measurement. L6-L10 begin with geological overviews such as basaltic lava being a mafic rock. But to understand this term, you’ll need some geochemistry from the Great Course "Nature of Earth” by Renton or Dr. Hazen's courses. L9’s factoid: “no evidence for land-based life before (at least) 740 million years ago” spotlights evolution as initially oceanic, as does Australia's 3.5-billion-year-old Apex chert. L10’s microtektite extraterrestrial sediments were fun. L12-13 begin the more technical sections of the course, beginning with seawater chemistry and water’s role in stabilizing the oceans. Pay particular attention to thermal inertia and its latent heats of fusion and evaporation. Without them, we'd be like Mars that “…has night to day changes in temperature…up to 150°." The freezing distillation of water, salt acting as antifreeze, and the important differences of water density with depth (and in later lectures with geographic position) are all basic to understanding ocean flow. L14 includes wave period, speed, orbital motion, that a max steepness of 7 to 1 height leads to white cap turbulence, speed (celerity) calculations for deepwater waves, and why a water depth of 1/20 of wavelength creates a rapidly moving shallow wave. Waves break when the ratio of wave height to water depth is 3.4 and because of its circular orbits, water at the top spills over. A rocky point of land creates shallower offshore water causing waves to converge on such headlands. Waves hitting the shore obliquely bend to become more parallel. L23-L24 describe coastal formations. L15-16 patiently explain (Southern Ocean) rogue wages and tides. L17: ocean biomass is 1.2 billion metric tons vs. 600-1000 B for land organisms (which store biomass). Lectures L18-22 describing ocean life follow, including the 80% conversion of light into energy by diatoms, poisonous red tides, photosynthetic picoplankton (discovered in the ‘80s!) as the most abundant bacteria on earth, and larger for species, the aerodynamics/vortex shedding of their teardrop shape, etc. L24 firmly embedded the abyssal plain sea cucumber in my memory with its major role in the sentence: “Every part of the ocean floor has moved through the gut of some organism multiple times…" L28 (& L31) concern the Coriolis Effect on earth’s air cells and is a fabulous handle on trade winds. L30 describes the Eckman transport where surface water flow deflects at 45° to the wind but is perpendicular 100 m down because oceanic loops bend to the right (gyres). As the current flow and Coriolis effect combine into an Ekman spiral, a dynamically balanced “hill" of water forms in the center of the gyre. Example: the Atlantic Sargasso Sea is still water, elevated 2m. SIDE NOTE: Its thick Sargasso floating seaweed (one can walk on it in places) made it the infamous “Port of Lost Ships” because ships (before steamships) couldn't escape its clutches. In 2022 it was once again inundating some Caribbean beaches. CON: In L8, Tobin mentions volcanic out-gassing of CO2 and water vapor forming “the second atmosphere". L33 tells us without this CO2, the earth’s surface temp would be –18°C. Yet in L33 (on global climate), Mt Pinatubo’s 1990s eruption has no mention of CO2. Strikingly, the world’s largest documented eruption’s (Alaska’s Nov 1912 Novarupta...heard in Jamaica) effects on CO2 climate change is not even brought up. According to the EPA, CO2 accounts for 80% of US greenhouse gas and methane 10%. Yet, CO2 has Global Warming Potential of 1 while methane has a GWP of 85. While CO2's 1/2 life is significantly longer, many environmentalists are concerned about 2050. Since the ocean also has huge frozen methane traps (see also L27), Tobin might have covered methane better than simply mentioning that oil and gas seep out into the ocean in many places and hydrocarbon-eating bacteria blooms “slowly amend these”.
Date published: 2023-01-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Alright Course I would recommend watching this course. It is well presented except for the fact that the professor will stutter here and there. I hope Great Courses will make more oceanography courses.
Date published: 2022-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring Watched this in high school, I went on to get a MS in Ocean Science based almost entirely on this course alone. No regrets
Date published: 2022-04-26
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Discover the wonder, delight, and awe-inspiring majesty of Earth's ocean with Oceanography: Exploring Earth's Final Wilderness. Professor Harold J. Tobin, an ocean scientist who has visited landscapes on the seabed that no human eyes have seen before, takes you on a scientific expedition to fathom the ocean's many mysteries&;amp;-from its shallowest tidal zone to its deepest depths. Requiring no background in science, these 36 intensively illustrated lectures will give you a thorough appreciation for the ocean as a system arguably more intricate and intriguing than the continents themselves.


Harold J. Tobin

We human beings have been fascinated with the ocean for millennia. Who among us has not stared out at the sea in wonder, wondering what is beneath the waves. What lies out there? What is it that makes the ocean the way that it is?


University of Washington

Dr. Harold J. Tobin is Professor in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences and Director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington in Seattle. He earned his B.S. in Geology and Geophysics from Yale University and his Ph.D. in Earth Sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Professor Tobin was named a Best Instructor by students at UW-Madison, and he was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America. Among his other honors is NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center Group Achievement Award for contributions to the astronaut training program. A specialist in marine geology and geophysics, Professor Tobin has spent nearly a year-and-a-half of his life at sea on 10 oceangoing research expeditions. His seagoing work has also included dives to more than a mile below the surface in the submarine Alvin. Since 2004, he has been Chief Scientist for the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program's Nankai Trough Seismogenic Zone Experiment, an ongoing U.S.–Japan collaboration on the causes of submarine earthquakes and tsunami that is the largest scientific ocean drilling project in history. Professor Tobin has published more than 40 papers and articles in scholarly journals, and his work has been featured on television programs as well as in numerous magazine and newspaper articles.

By This Professor

Oceanography: Exploring Earth's Final Wilderness
Oceanography: Exploring Earth's Final Wilderness


Diving In-The Ocean Adventure

01: Diving In-The Ocean Adventure

Begin your study of the ocean from every angle, examining Earth's watery realm in light of geology, biology, chemistry, meteorology, and other fields. In this lecture, survey the extent of the ocean and the approaches that oceanographers take to understanding it.

31 min
Explorers, Navigators, Pioneering Scientists

02: Explorers, Navigators, Pioneering Scientists

The early explorers of the ocean were interested in charting its islands, dimensions, and resources-and in using it as a highway for trade. Relive the exploits of these mariners, who included Europeans, Chinese, and Polynesians. Only later did scientific exploration of the ocean begin.

33 min
Ocean Basics and Ocean Basins

03: Ocean Basics and Ocean Basins

As recently as the 1950s, geologists envisioned the ocean basins as a submerged version of the continents. Explore the topography of the seabed, discovering that it is shaped by geological forces fundamentally different from those on land.

32 min
Mapping the Sea-Soundings to Satellites

04: Mapping the Sea-Soundings to Satellites

The ocean floor was once as mysterious as the surface of another planet. Investigate the technologies involved in measuring bathymetry, the undersea counterpart of topography. Weighted ropes and cables for gauging the depth of the sea have given way to sophisticated sonar from ships and radar from satellites.

34 min
Habitats-Sunlit Shelves to the Dark Abyss

05: Habitats-Sunlit Shelves to the Dark Abyss

Take a tour of organisms that live from the shallows to the ocean floor. Learn how to classify ocean zones, and discover the importance of temperature, chemistry, nutrients, light, and other factors for different life forms-from active swimmers to passive floaters and bottom dwellers.

32 min
The Spreading Sea Floor and Mid-Ocean Ridges

06: The Spreading Sea Floor and Mid-Ocean Ridges

What made the ocean floor the way it is? Trace the evidence that ocean basins are geologically young and that new oceanic crust is being continually formed at mid-ocean ridges, pushing and rifting continental plates in a process called plate tectonics.

33 min
The Plunging Sea Floor and Deep-Sea Trenches

07: The Plunging Sea Floor and Deep-Sea Trenches

Investigate subduction zones, where oceanic crust plunges beneath an overriding tectonic plate. These margins are associated with deep-sea trenches, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes. Examine other features, such as hotspots, which are a mid-plate phenomenon that includes the Hawaiian Islands chain.

32 min
The Formation of the Earth and Its Ocean

08: The Formation of the Earth and Its Ocean

Cover 9 billion years of cosmic history-from the big bang, to the accretion of the sun and planets, to the formation of Earth's oceans 4 billion years ago. The water in the oceans came from water vapor in volcanic eruptions and possibly from comet impacts.

30 min
The Early Ocean and the Origins of Life

09: The Early Ocean and the Origins of Life

Explore scenarios for the origin of life, which may have begun around deep-sea hot springs. The oceans have maintained roughly the same conditions over the entire history of life on Earth, even though the sea floor has renewed itself many times over through plate tectonics.

34 min
Marine Sediments-Archives of the Ocean

10: Marine Sediments-Archives of the Ocean

Ocean sediments are like tree rings that can be "read" as a history of the ocean and climate through time. Investigate the different sources of sediments, which range from products of erosion on land, to the remains of sea creatures, to ejecta from asteroid impacts.

31 min
Offshore Oil and Gas-Resources and Risks

11: Offshore Oil and Gas-Resources and Risks

Learn the origin of petroleum and natural gas deposits, which formed under very specific conditions in marine sediments. As an example of the challenges of oil recovery, survey the technology of deep-water drilling, focusing on the disastrous blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

34 min
The Enduring Chemistry of Seawater

12: The Enduring Chemistry of Seawater

Why is the sea salty? Why isn't it getting saltier? Probe these and other mysteries of ocean chemistry, looking at the remarkable stability and uniformity of seawater over time. Also study the role of water and the conjectured role of life in driving plate tectonics.

30 min
How the Physics of Water Controls the Ocean

13: How the Physics of Water Controls the Ocean

Analyze the surprising properties that keep the ocean liquid and make water the defining physical substance for life. Among them is its ability to retain heat, which has kept Earth in a narrow temperature range hospitable to life for billions of years. Also investigate the propagation of light in water and why the ocean is blue.

32 min
Waves-Motion in the Ocean

14: Waves-Motion in the Ocean

Chart the dynamics of wind-generated waves, which include almost all ocean waves. See how they form, grow in size, travel for thousands of miles, and then break on shore. The big waves preferred by surfers come from remote regions that have the ocean's stormiest weather.

30 min
Rogue Waves and Tsunami

15: Rogue Waves and Tsunami

Long considered a mariners' tall tale, abnormally high "rogue" waves are now well documented. Understand the physics of why they form and the yearly toll they take on shipping. Then study tsunami, or seismic sea waves, which are generated when undersea earthquakes displace huge volumes of water, often with catastrophic results.

32 min
Tides in Theory and Practice

16: Tides in Theory and Practice

Tides are caused by the gravitational attraction of the moon and, to a lesser extent, the sun. Learn that the timing and height of tides are far more complex than the daily motions of the moon and sun suggest-due to the influences of coastal features, the Coriolis effect, and other factors.

30 min
Marine Life, Energy, and Food Webs

17: Marine Life, Energy, and Food Webs

Trace the path of energy and food through oceanic ecosystems, which have a far higher turnover of biomass than the terrestrial equivalents. As a result, most of what grows in the oceans is very quickly consumed. Learn why warm, temperate seas are often nutrient-poor compared with polar waters.

34 min
Tiny Plankton-The Most Abundant Life on Earth

18: Tiny Plankton-The Most Abundant Life on Earth

Survey some of the many species of plankton, which are passive, floating, and drifting organisms. Microscopic plankton are ubiquitous throughout the oceans and represent all three of the basic biological domains: Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya.

31 min
Soft-Bodied Life in the Dark, Open Depths

19: Soft-Bodied Life in the Dark, Open Depths

Investigate the soft-bodied organisms that live at great depths and have no skeletons or shells. Little known until recently, this group includes a variety of creatures whose amorphous bodies are often destroyed by nets and who only came to light through studies from submersibles.

33 min
Swimming-The Many Fish in the Sea

20: Swimming-The Many Fish in the Sea

Contrasting with free-floating plankton, nekton are the ocean's swimmers. In this lecture, study the most numerous nekton-fish-focusing on their streamlining, gills, schooling, and other adaptations. Also, examine mollusks, including the octopus, squid, and nautilus.

34 min
Marine Birds, Reptiles, and Mammals

21: Marine Birds, Reptiles, and Mammals

Turn to the nekton among birds, reptiles, and mammals. These feature some of the most magnificent creatures on the planet, including albatrosses, Sooty Shearwaters, sea turtles, manatees, seals, sea lions, whales, and dolphins. Focus on the adaptations that allow them to thrive in marine environments.

34 min
Whaling, Fisheries, and Farming the Ocean

22: Whaling, Fisheries, and Farming the Ocean

Examine the economic exploitation of marine life, beginning with the history of whaling and continuing to the present, when fishing is the only significant source of hunted food. Weigh the alternatives of commercial fishing and mariculture in an era of rapidly declining fish populations.

34 min
Where Sea Meets the Land and Why Coasts Vary

23: Where Sea Meets the Land and Why Coasts Vary

Have you ever walked along a beach or stood on a high cliff overlooking the sea and wondered how the land got to be that way? Learn how erosion, deposition, sea-level change, plate tectonics, and other factors have produced the characteristic coastlines of the world.

32 min
Where Rivers Meet the Sea - Estuaries and Deltas

24: Where Rivers Meet the Sea - Estuaries and Deltas

River mouths, deltas, tidal inlets, fjords, and enclosed bays are places where freshwater and seawater mix. Explore these complex zones, which are among the most biologically productive ecosystems on Earth. Many marine organisms carry out key parts of their lifecycles in such environments.

30 min
Coastal Erosion-Beaches and Sea Cliffs

25: Coastal Erosion-Beaches and Sea Cliffs

Coastlines are constantly changing features. Examine what happens when structures are built to halt or reverse the change, especially at a time when sea level is rising. Most human-engineered solutions turn out to be short-term at best, and many have unintended consequences.

31 min
Tidal Life, Sea Forests, and Coral Reefs

26: Tidal Life, Sea Forests, and Coral Reefs

Begin your survey of the organisms and ecosystems that flourish in the most complex and varied part of the ocean: the benthic zone, or sea bottom. Start in the shallows, where life inhabits a wide range of niches-from the crashing waves of tide pools to placid mudflats.

32 min
Deep Bottom Life and Hydrothermal Vents

27: Deep Bottom Life and Hydrothermal Vents

Continue your investigation of the benthic zone by exploring the deep ocean bottom, where astonishing diversity exists in cold, darkness, and high pressure. Your tour includes sea cucumbers, brittle stars, herds of sea pigs, and the unique community around deep sea vents, which extracts energy from the Earth itself.

32 min
Trade Winds-The Circulation of Heat and Wind

28: Trade Winds-The Circulation of Heat and Wind

Explore another ocean-the ocean of air-which interacts with Earth's seas through the force of wind on water. Investigate the cause of wind patterns such as the trade winds, westerlies, and polar easterlies. Two crucial factors are uneven distribution of heat and the Coriolis effect due to Earth's rotation.

29 min
Heavy Weather-Storms and Hurricanes

29: Heavy Weather-Storms and Hurricanes

Gain insight into the world's largest storms by looking at the interaction of ocean, atmosphere, and land, and how it produces nor'easters, monsoons, and hurricanes. Focus on the life cycle of hurricanes-how they form, intensify, and often produce devastating storm surges, as happened during Hurricane Katrina.

34 min
The Gulf Stream to Gyres-Vast Surface Currents

30: The Gulf Stream to Gyres-Vast Surface Currents

Follow the chain of events that initiate surface currents in the ocean. Big currents such as the Gulf Stream are caused mainly by wind friction. The mapping of currents has been aided by incidents such as the accidental spill of thousands of floating bath toys in the Pacific in 1992.

32 min
Upwelling, Downwelling, and El Nino

31: Upwelling, Downwelling, and El Nino

Winds drive surface currents, and together wind and currents set in motion large-scale upwelling and downwelling. Study these patterns and the disturbances that lead to El Niño and La Niña cycles, which cause major disruptions in fisheries and weather.

32 min
The Deepest, Slowest River-Polar Bottom Water

32: The Deepest, Slowest River-Polar Bottom Water

While surface currents move a typical water molecule around an ocean basin in a year or two, down deep water circulates much more slowly, taking hundreds to thousands of years to make a circuit. Trace how dense, cold water masses from the polar regions slowly but inexorably move the great bulk of the ocean.

32 min
The Ocean and Global Climate

33: The Ocean and Global Climate

The ocean contains most of the heat in the ocean-atmosphere system, and surface currents distribute it around the planet. Begin your study of the ocean's reaction to increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is leading to climate change worldwide.

32 min
The Warming, Rising Sea

34: The Warming, Rising Sea

Learn that one conjectured effect of global warming-the shutting down of the Gulf Stream leading to a new ice age in Europe-is unlikely. But the planet is already on a path to melting glaciers and steadily rising seas, with catastrophic implications for low-lying populated areas.

34 min
Marine Pollution-The Impact of Toxins

35: Marine Pollution-The Impact of Toxins

Turn to the problem of marine pollution, which includes runoff from land and deliberate dumping, in addition to acidification from atmospheric carbon dioxide. Also look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where plastic particles and other debris have concentrated in a rotating mid-ocean current.

34 min
The Future Ocean

36: The Future Ocean

Finish the course by looking into the future. Constant change will continue to be the state of the ocean, just as it always has been. But humans can promote change for the better in a variety of ways, including using the national park model to establish marine sanctuaries. Learn other choices you can make to help preserve this wonder of the planet.

36 min